Have you ever wondered why we forget things? Some memories may even slip our minds faster than others. Where did I just leave my phone? Where did I park my car? What did I just read? The thought of temporary memory loss is indeed unpleasant and makes us start questioning our brain efficiency, especially when we know it is not age related.
Despite arguably being the most complex structure in the universe that can perform many impressive activities, the brain still forgets things. However, forgetting is a natural and inevitable process. Not every forgetting is considered deficient. Some are necessary for maintaining normal brain functions and some are beneficial to our learning process.
This is all about understanding how memory works and how to tame forgetfulness so we can live our life and learn more efficiently.
What is memory?
From our first day in school to our latest trip to the beach, memory is not a single solid piece of information. Instead, there are several different pieces, collections or combinations of information forming our memory.
Memory is the ability of the brain to take in, store and recall information later. Memory helps us make decisions and react to the world in effective ways.
In short, there are three main processes involved in remembering things.
This is when we receive a new piece of information through our senses and get it into our memory. It requires us to pay attention to the information and link it to the existing knowledge to make sense of it.
However, people sometimes get some types of information into memory without being aware of it or making an effort to remember it. Well, that sounds great only when it’s pleasant or important information to life, doesn’t it?
New memories are formed every day. Some old memories, however, fade away too. That’s a natural and essential process of the human brain.
The main storage places for memory are sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.
The information received is first stored in our short-term memory. If deemed important, the brain transfers it into our long-term memory.
This is when we get the information out of our memory. This process enables us to use the information, answer questions or perform some certain tasks.
Some information can be recalled quickly when we constantly repeat it. Other information may be important but not easy to bring back. Many different memory techniques have been invented to help us better remember and retrieve important information later.
Why we forget things
New memories are formed every day. Some old memories inevitably fade away too. We tend to revisit some certain memories more often than others, like our exciting trip abroad with family, or an evening we exchanged hilarious jokes with friends and we almost died of laughter. We know we are not likely to forget them any time soon.
The loss of ability to retrieve information we stored in our brain sometimes can be frustrating. However, when we forget things, it doesn’t always mean we have a bad memory.
In fact, some research suggests that we actually can remember almost everything that happened in our life. However, if we kept every fact and event and never lost them, our brain would be overwhelmed with useless memories.
Despite its impressive storage capacity, our brain is quite selective. It decides on which information is more important and relevant so it can be stored in our long-term memory. The rest is discarded over time.
When we constantly recall the information or actively practice it, these memories are strengthened each time. Unused information that is not retrieved eventually becomes lost. Since our brain knows how to be efficient with information, it’s important to know how to train our memory effectively.
How to keep memory fit and strong
Apart from the brain’s intrinsic ability to de-clutter our memories and free up some mental space, there are many potential reasons why we temporarily forget things we need to remember. Some common causes include:
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of focus and attention
- Old age
- Brain injury
Even though temporary memory loss affected by these factors is inevitable, there are 3 easy tricks we can do today to keep our memory fit and minimise forgetfulness in everyday life.
1. Organise our life to help the brain
We become forgetful from time to time when the brain is overloaded with unnecessary information. Use planners, notes, to-do lists, calendars, journals, maps or any useful apps on a smart phone to help us remember and be able to have access to information promptly. By organising our life, we help our brain to only focus on important things we need to remember.
2. Declutter our space
This is similar to organising our life with a little help from a pen and paper or technology. Cluttered space results in a cluttered mind. Decluttering unnecessary stuff from our room, table, working station, or home saves our brain from distractions. This helps us to be able to focus on the task at hand. Decluttering our space minimises chances of multi-tasking and forgetting.
3. Spaced Repetition
As mentioned earlier, the more we repeat our memories, the more we strengthen them. Repetition is essential, especially when learning new concepts. However, cramming is not good as it makes the brain tired and memory worsened. Instead of trying to memorise everything within one session, space it out after increasingly longer periods of time.
All in all, our brain has incredible power to selectively remember and forget things. Forgetting is not always bad as it could be part of the learning process. The brain needs to forget the unessentials in order to make space for the new essentials. In some cases, forgetting some certain memories which are considered ‘noise’ helps us to see a clearer picture and make better decisions.
If you want to remember more and forget less, declutter your brain. Decide on which information is deemed essential, set priorities and actively practice it. When it comes to the brain, remember ‘Use it, or lose it.’
All rights reserved. Used by Permission of Gamma High IQ Society and Superbrain Code.